My life has been reduced to the contents of a yellow tablet. Without my daily "to do" lists, I wonder, would I exist at all?
Tomorrow starts another school year of ceaseless details: Homework done? Change/coins for lunches? Parent-teacher conferences? Picture day haircuts? Band recital -- when? Field trips -- where? Before the madness begins, I'm taking my mother to lunch, a leisurely few hours with the woman who loves me best.
"We're out of coffee cream," my husband informs me as I dress for the day. In the cryptic vernacular of marriage-speak, this means: "Don't make me drink my coffee black tomorrow." Moments later and quite out of nowhere, he remarks pensively: "I'm concerned the kids aren't getting enough fluoride. Is there something we can buy?" (Code deciphered: "we" means me.) I shoot him the blank stare of a cat whose just been told to roll over.
I'm ready to leave, then this: "Here, return this PS2 game to Hollywood Video, since you're going that way for the other errands." Sometimes irony slaps you in the face.
On the drive to Mom's, the kids read in the back seat, I return phone calls. A magazine editor needs article revisions before going to press tomorrow. He's not in. Tag, you're it. Oh great, a client requesting an impromptu meeting. Leave a voice message. Next, check on laptop repairs. Wait on hold for tech-support so long my neck stiffens in protest. I click off the phone and toss it in my purse. Inside is a "thank you" note for fluffy purple slippers (given to my daughter) and a "get well" card for a hospitalized friend. Atta girl, you remembered to send these, but I've run out of stamps.
TO DO: Get coffee cream, fluoride rinse. Return PS2 Matrix. Article revisions to magazine. Stamps at P.O. Confirm morning meeting. Check on-line for Dell repair status.
"How'd you get that burn on your arm?" Mom asks me over coffee at Eat 'N Park. "Oh, that. I was interviewing someone when the oven bell went off." Now I get the blank stare.
"She was on a roll," I justify. "I didn't want to interrupt her train of thought. Was life this hectic in your day, Mom?"
"Remember me saying I didn't have time to wash my girdles?"
"I'm ordering us both a Belgian waffle," she offers in consolation.
“Let's talk about you," I say, changing the subject. Mom's been living alone since my father passed away. I worry that she's lonely, lacks companionship.
“I'm thinking of getting a kitten, an all-white one," she informs me.
Just then, my cell phone thrums. It's the magazine editor. Luckily, I'm prepared because I worked into the night on revisions. "I need you to review a second revised draft," he reports. Darn. I promise to email him later, after I review the article, again.
TO DO: Find fluffy white cat for Mom, litter box, scooper, etc. Round 2 article revisions. Check price of phone headset so I can talk hands-free. Exercise off Belgian waffle, if time (ha!)
After lunch, Mom shows me the trees she had trimmed in her backyard. It reminds me of the trees in my backyard that are NOT trimmed.
"And let me show you my new water heater!" she says proudly.
"What's the life span on those?"
"The installer said 10 years."
Hmmm. Mine is 16. No wonder my showers are tepid.
"You'd better have it checked before winter," she advises.
"I'll forget if I don't write it down." I yank from my stuffed purse a crumpled yellow notepad, the remains of which is one used sheet with scribbles on the margins and cardboard back.
"Looks like you need a new writing tablet," Mom notices.
BUY NEW TABLET, I write on a remaining spec of unwritten space.
"Oh, wait!" Mom trails off and walks briskly to the den, then reappears with an armful of items. She's in give-away mode, this thing older people do as they sense the inevitable approaching, like waves acceptingly lapping the shore before a boat's arrival.
The children are fascinated with their gifts: an antique harmonica for my son; for my daughter, an Italian concertina that, when squeezed, breathes the sweet nostalgia of childhood into the room. And for me: a 5-in-1 divider tab spiral notebook that she'll never use.
As we kiss goodbye, she slips the kids each $20 for good measure; me, $20 to "fill your tank, dear," a simple gesture of gratitude that I always make space for us -- mother and daughter -- in the midst of my time-famished life.
TO DO: New water heater? Call Tim re: trimming trees. Gas in car. Sheet
music for concertina?
The children perform a fugue of screeches and whimpers with their instruments all the way up I-79 (and I promised myself I wouldn't go to bed with a headache, for once). Then we do errands. Run into grocery store for two items -- coffee cream and fluoride rinse -- and wind up spending $90, including freshly prepared sandwiches for the dinner I won't have time to cook tonight.
My son, as of yesterday's haircut, is obsessed with a certain gel the stylist used on his spiky do: Bed Head Manipulator, "a funky gunk that rocks!!" Even the tongue-pierced teen-age cashier winces at the price, and he's someone who should understand such extravagances. At $17.99 for two ounces (there goes Nana's money), this stuff should be able to hold erect the spire atop the Chrysler Building.
We arrive home. Our dog's been limping for two days. What's up with that? The magazine editor's email hasn't arrived with the gazillion other spam messages I've received in the past six hours. I call him. He resends. After a bustle of kitchen clean-up, the house is too noisy to concentrate. My husband is downstairs practicing bagpipes (don't ask). My daughter is in the living room, still enthralled with the squeezebox. My son has taken up tackling a pile of pillows against the sofa as he watches a pre-season game on TV.
"Everyone to bed," I announce. "School tomorrow!" Did I charge the battery in my digital camera? I've never missed snapping a photo of the kids on the first day of every school year. After tuck-ins, I retreat to the bedroom with the article, a red pen and a stack of newspapers. I flip on the headboard lights and one of them blows, darkening the room. Just then, my husband enters.
"I've invited the Dunnings over for dinner this Saturday," he informs me.
It's now Thursday. "Oh, okay," is all I can muster.
"Do you think we should invite another family, also?"
More people means more work for me. "Nah, just the Dunnings."
"What should we serve?" Good question.
He answers: "How about steaks for the adults, burgers for the kids? Can we do that?"
Yes, WE can. Sure wish I knew about this before I went to the grocery store.
TO DO: Aida limping, call vet? Check spam filter on email program. Tubular light bulbs for bed headboard. Plan Saturday dinner party-menu? Drinks? Mow grass! When to grocery shop? In between ironing, cleaning, running kids to karate?
Oops! Forgot to check voice mail since arriving home. Message from client, has pushed back meeting from 9 to 10 a.m. -- There IS a God. Also missed a call from my brother in North Carolina. I look down at my hands, and realize they badly need a manicure.
TO DO BEFORE BED: Call brother, could be important. Prepare notes for a.m. meeting. Camera battery charged? Email article edits! Glue on fake nails so I look presentable in meeting.
Around midnight, I put aside all papers and pick up the remnants of my yellow tablet. Not too shabby: I've crossed out 30 things and added only 24, so I'm up by six. All in a day's list.
By Gina Mazza Hillier
Gina Mazza Hillier is a nationally published journalist, freelance book editor, creativity coach and chief inspirational officer of Epiphany Works, LLC, a Pittsburgh-based inspired event planning company (www.epiphanyworks.org). Gina is author of The Highest and The Best and is currently co-authoring a book about “conscious business principles and best practices at play.”